Update #8: Cherkasy, Ukraine
Shocking is my word for the day. We were up very early this morning to drive nearly 4 hours towards the frontlines of the war, stopping in Cherkasy, a modern city of 300,000, and the capital of the Cherkasy Oblast (or what we could call a state). Early each morning we read the latest news of the war, which guides our travel plans. We’ve just learned that Ukraine has successfully defended the great city of Kharkiv, and that Russia is retreating. The people of Ukraine are jubilant! “Slava Ukraine” as they say, or “Glory to Ukraine!”

A local contact in Cherkasy has set up meetings at the 3 major hospitals taking care of the wounded. The main “Oblast” or Regional Hospital is caring for 350 wounded soldiers. One of the civilian hospitals has been converted into a burn hospital, staffed with plastic surgeons and burn specialists. They tell us that we’re the first group of foreigners to visit their hospital.

The burn hospital reminded me of the burn units I’ve seen at military hospitals in the US. Dozens and dozens of severely burned soldiers fill the wards. Some are wrapped from head to toe like mummies, with 80-90% burns, caused by some type of Russian flamethrowers.

At the Regional Hospital, several floors are filled with mostly orthopedic patients, almost all of whom have external fixation devices holding their shattered bones together. The Ortho doctors show us gruesome before-and-after photos of the wounds, as well as x-rays and CT scans. Dr. Jim Pettey, an orthopedist and Global Care Force volunteer, feels the care they are giving is exceptional!

Though their buildings are old and the equipment outdated, they are performing world-class surgical procedures. Of course, they are overwhelmed with the number of wounded that keep streaming into the hospital—- they are expecting 100 new patients tomorrow, who will arrive on a special hospital train from the front lines.

Their military medical system is very similar to the one I was accustomed to when I served in the US Army. Injured soldiers are first treated on the front lines by combat medics, then transferred by ambulances to a battalion-level forward operating base, where there are doctors and surgeons. There patients are stabilized, some getting life-saving initial surgery, before being transferred to the next-tier hospitals, just like the ones we are visiting today. The difference is that in Ukraine the wounded are transferred by special hospital/military trains to places like Cherkasy, where more definitive surgery and care is provided. In the US, the wounded are transported by medevac helicopters to a military field hospitals in the rear, before being placed on huge Air Force C-17’s, which have been transformed into flying hospitals, flying the wounded to Germany or US military hospitals for further treatment. I know this system well, as I was an injured soldier that was medevac’d out of Iraq in 2004, finally arriving at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio for surgery.

After seeing hundreds of recovering soldiers today, and talking with dozens of doctors, we are exhausted, but not as exhausted as they are! They’ve shared their needs with us, and asked for medical volunteers. As we make the long drive back to Kyiv, my mind is racing as I think of what I need to be doing to support the hospitals I visited today!

God bless the Ukrainian frontline medical workers!